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It turns out that Mercury could actually be the closest neighboring planet on Earth



We often consider Venus as our closest siblings in the solar system. It is most similar to Earth in terms of size, mass and composition. And we thought it was closest in physical distance – but it looks like this honor could be Mercury.

No, the order of the planetary orbits is still the same. Mercury is still the innermost planet, and the orbit of Venus is closest to Earth's orbit. However, according to new calculations, Mercury is, on average, closer to Earth than our former BFF.

It does not sound intuitive, right? And maybe that's what led us to the wrong ideas in the first place.

"Through a phenomenon of carelessness, ambiguity, or peer pressure, science popularizers have spread information based on a misconception about the average distance between planets," write engineers Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe, and Samuel Cordner in a commentary released in Physics Today .

"Using a more accurate method of estimating the average distance between two orbiting bodies, we find that this distance is proportional to the relative radius of the inner orbit."

"In other words, Mercury is closer to Earth on average as Venus, because it circles the sun closer. "

The team whose jobs are at the Los Alamos National Observatory The US Army's Engineer Research Development Center and NASA are not yet publishing their calculations in peer-reviewed work but the authors note that they look forward to an in-depth review by the scientific community. [1

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The way in which we normally calculate the distances between the planets notes the team is based on their distance from the Sun. The Earth is on average an astronomical unit (AU) of the Sun. Venus is 0.722 AU. Mercury is 0.387 AU.

However, if you subtract the distance of Venus from Earth, you will actually get the average distance between their orbits – not the distance between the planets themselves. As the planets move at different speeds, they spend a lot of time on the opposite Sides of the sun.

Since Mercury is closer to the Sun, the distance between Earth and Earth, when farthest away, is much smaller than the distance between Earth and Venus.

The team developed the "point-circle method" or the PCM equation to calculate the average distance between two planets in concentric, coplanar, and circular orbits.

  Planetary Distances (Stockman et al., Physics Today, 2019)

According to their results, it is not just the earth. Mercury is on average also the closest planet to all other planets. Yes, even Neptune, just outside the solar system. And yes, even the distant dwarf planet Pluto (though its elliptical orbit complicates math.)

The team has described their discovery as … Whirly Dirly Corollary: "For two bodies with approximately coplanar, concentric, circular orbits The distance between the two bodies decreases as the radius of the inner orbit decreases. "

To test, they created a simulation that showed the positions of all planets in the solar system over a 10,000-year period compared the results with the conventional range measurements and the PCM results. The simulation varied by only 1 percent for the PCM and up to 300 percent for the conventional distances. Yikes.

"As we can best say, no one has come up with a concept like PCM to compare orbits," write the engineers.

"With the correct assumptions, PCM could be used to obtain a quick estimate of the average distance between any set of orbiting bodies.Perhaps it may be helpful to use satellite communication relays for which the signal strength squared the square Distance drops, guess.

At least we now know that Venus is not our nearest neighbor – and that Mercury belongs to all. "

However, one can never have too many planet buddies. We are all in favor of bringing Mercury to the planetary club with best friends. Instead of throwing out Venus, we still love all our neighbors, near and far, even you, the distant dwarf planet Pluto.


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